Pilgrimage
in honour of
Saint
John
Roberts

 


The Welsh martyr who ministered in London ...

Archbishop Peter is not the only person who has travelled from Cardiff to London this year. A Welsh pilgrimage left Cardiff on Friday, 16th July 2010, en route for London to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the death of the Welsh martyr St John Roberts.

Saint John Roberts

St John Roberts was born in 1577 in Trawsfynydd a small village in Snowdonia, North Wales - the son of a farmer. He was baptised into the Protestant faith in the local church of St Madryn and is said to have received his early education from a monk who had been a member of the community of Cymer Abbey just outside Dolgellau, until it was dissolved by Henry VIII. He attended St John's College, Oxford in 1595 before leaving to study law at Furnival's Inn, London.

During his travels in Europe, he left behind both the law and his former faith as he converted to Catholicism on a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. He moved on to Spain and joined St Benedict's Monastery, Valladolid, and became a member of this community in 1598.

After his ordination in 1602, he succeeded in secretly returning to England, despite the government spies on his tail. He worked with sufferers of the Black Death in London for a while, but was captured several times by the Protestant authorities, sentenced to prison and repeatedly deported.

He founded an English priory of Benedictine monks in Douai, northern France, which led to the establishment of St Gregory's Monastery. This community of monks was banished from France in 1795 at the French Revolution and travelled to England where they settled at Downside Abbey, Bath in 1814.

But John was intent on returning home, even though he knew he would almost certainly be killed if he did so. One day, as he was offering Mass, he was arrested, dragged to Newgate prison, accused of high treason and sentenced to death. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 10th December 1610, at the age of 33. It was usual for the prisoner to be disembowelled while still alive, but the large crowd which gathered at his execution would not allow this. He was very popular among the poor of London because of the kindness he had shown them during the plague.

After his death, monks took his body back to Douai. One of his fingers is kept as a relic at Tyburn Convent very close to the site of the Tyburn gallows, which is commemorated by a palque in the ground on a nearby traffic island.

The Pilgrimage

The Welsh pilgrimage in his honour visited Downside Abbey on Friday, 16th, and after lunch travelled to Tyburn Convent where Mother Mathias welcomed them and gave them a short account of the Tyburn martyrs and St John Roberts. This was followed by an ecumenical service conducted by Bishop Edwin Regan, Bishop of Wrexham, in rememberance of St John Roberts and all the English and Welsh martyrs. There was an opportunity to go down into the crypt and see the relics of the Tyburn martyrs.

On Saturday, 17th, at 2:00 pm they attended an ecumenical service at Westminster Cathedral - the highlight of the pilgrimage. It was led by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Rowan Williams who addressed the congregation in Welsh. Archbishop Peter was there as were many of the Catholic and Anglican bishops from England and Wales.

As well as the religious representatives, Huw Edwards, Guto Harri, Dafydd Iwan and the London Welsh Chorale all be contributed to the service. The Westminster Cathedral Choir was joined by Welsh tenor Stuart Kale to sing a work especially commissioned for the occasion by the leading Welsh composer Brian Hughes. Twelve-year-old Mali Fflur, a National Eisteddfod winner, sang a poem in praise of St John Roberts by the crowned bard Dafydd Pritchard, to the accompaniment of Alwena Roberts on the harp.

Lord Dafydd Elis Thomas, Presiding Officer of the National Welsh Assembly, unveiled a mosaic of St David during the service.

On the final day of the pilgrimage, Sunday, 18th, pilgrims visited St John Roberts’ old college, St John’s College, Oxford, where they celebrated Mass which included prayers and hymns in English, Welsh and Latin.

St. John Roberts, pray for us.
Sant John Roberts, gweddia drosom ni.

 

Icon of St John Roberts by the late Dom Gilbert, from Prinknash Abbey.